Myanmar Follows Global Pattern in How Ethnic Cleansing Begins

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Civic nationalism, which is based around citizenship and shared political beliefs rather than ethnicity, is more inclusive. But that same inclusivity can make it challenging to create a strong, cohesive sense of national identity. When that happens, focusing on outsiders — identifying who is not part of the nation, rather than who is — can seem an expedient shortcut.

Political psychology researchers have long found that when leaders cast outsiders as different and threatening, that can strengthen insiders’ sense of identity and group cohesion. But that can leave minorities at risk of discrimination or even violence.

In Europe today, for instance, politicians rarely make overt claims that their national identity should be explicitly white or Christian. But warnings about the impact of Muslim immigration, burqas and mosque minarets have become, even for many mainstream politicians, a way to classify Muslims as outsiders.

Other groups in Europe have felt the sting of exclusion for much longer. The Roma have long been treated as perpetual foreigners. Regardless of their legal citizenship, they are seen as traveling interlopers who are not part of a nation’s civic identity or culture. That has led to entrenched prejudice and discrimination that regularly spill over into violence.

And the Jews, particularly before World War II, were also often treated as perpetual aliens who were not truly part of the nation.

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